Senator Bob Kerrey (D-NE)
Press Conference
Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC
March 5, 1992

[Democracy in Action Transcript |  C-SPAN Video]

KERREY: ...Well first of all, I must confess I feel a little badly about the race coming to an end, but I don't feel nearly as badly as I do for Dave Kotok out there with the Omaha World Herald. He's got to go back to Omaha and cover a county commissioners race now. But at least he gets to go back home.

After New Hampshire I was delighted, or at least I appeared delighted, to say that I had won a bronze and then went on to South Dakota and was happy to be able to say that I won a gold, but after Tuesday I feel a little like the Jamaican bobsled team.

We had a lot of spirit but unfortunately we didn't get a lot of medals. About the only good news for me came on Tuesday in the state of Colorado. I'd like to do, like to have done better in Colorado, but when you're Cornhusker from Nebraska anytime you get 12 points on the road in the state of Colorado you've done pretty well.

At the end of the campaign we were ready to go full throttle, but unfortunately we ran out of gas. While we have plenty of potential and plenty of enthusiasm, unfortunately we do not have plenty of money. So it is with regret, but with great pride for all that we have done together, that I am here this morning to end my candidacy for president of the United States of America.

But make no mistake, this is no retreat—in Bruce Springsteen's words this is no retreat and this is no surrender. For me the fight simply is going to move on to new arenas.

I thought last night for a moment that I might go on in the race simply by changing my name to Bob Uncommitted. But I thought better of it.

I want to first of all congratulate all the other candidates, the four remaining Democratic candidates who did win, and I want to wish them well. I know there's a long road ahead; there's a lot of work for all of them.

I have exercised political hyperbole on a number of occasions and called them unelectable, but with each passing day, it's clear to me that the only unelectable politician running for president of the United States is George Bush.

As to my own campaign, while my candidacy for president of the United States is over, the cause of the campaign—the urgent need for fundamental change—is not over. I will continue the struggle to describe the course I believe America should set in the uncharted waters of the post Cold War era. And I will continue to fight to make the changes needed to move in this new direction.

Paraphrasing the late Lou Gehrig, you may have heard I got some bad breaks, most of them self inflicted, but today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

I'm lucky for having a state like Nebraska that would give me its faith and encouragement. I'm lucky for the opportunity I've had these past five months to lay out my views before the wisdom of the American people. And I'm lucky for the thousands who supported me with their confidence, idealism money, time, and effort.  I especially...

I want to especially as well thank my colleagues who stood in with me through thick and unfortunately mostly thin, stayed with me from beginning to end; I'm very grateful for their support their friendship. I wish I could say that I'm enthusiatically looking forward to getting back to Strom Thurmond's filibuster. But I will do the best I can.

I'm also very grateful and indeed very moved by the support and friendship—the love in fact—given to me by my fellow comrades in arms in the Vietnam era.

I hope that as much as the war was slightly open(?ed) during this campaign that America understands that Vietnam is no longer the issue. The issue instead is the eagerness and sense of purpose with which Vietnam veterans return to political life.

I take as a sign of hope that my campaign has awakened in thousands of Vietnam veterans the realization that their government is no longer an enemy. That government can be an instrument of power, which can after all be used wisely if only one gets involved in defining the mission.

The point must be made this morning that too many Americans feel like their government cannot be used wisely for anything. Two Americans in three are afraid they may lose their jobs in the coming year.

Perhaps the strongest message of this campaign is that job security in Washington DC must be reduced if we ever hope to reverse the uncertainty everywhere else in this country.

Americans are full of doubt about the future, anger about the present, and longing for the past. The buzz word for the 1990s—downsizing—has ripped through American confidence like a chainsaw.

For 45 years, two generations, this nation knew where we were going. We were containing Soviet communism abroad, while we were building increased prosperity here at home. Suddenly, Soviet Communism has vanished and prosperity, long assumed to be ever growing and ever satisfying, is now seen to be neither.

America's leaders need to wake up. As leaders we need to awaken to the new world and the new possibilities in it.

In the old era we contained a clear enemy, now we must contain the more elusive enemies of hatred, violence, bitterness, selfishness, intolerance, and ignorance. And we must control as well, and fight as well, the desire to punish, discourage, subdue, or to terrorize the human spirit.

At this moment between the world of the known past and the unknown future, we are called upon as as Americans, and we have a duty to answer this question: What is going on in our country, anyway?

Here's how I see it.

We need a massive economic conversion from an economy that produces weapons the world fears to an economy that produces goods and services that the world wants to purchase.

We need to begin with fundamental change in the way we finance healthcare. Soon...

Soon, within two years in fact, we will be spending a trillion dollars a year in America for health care, financing a system that does not provide continuous health care for our children and continues to place a penalty on job mobility and retraining.

We need fundamental change in the way we treat our children. America is no longer the land built on dreams and values of our parents. In city streets teenagers do not, no longer play stickball or kick the can on hot summer nights. Instead they proud and warlike gangs with cheap handgun and semi automatic weapons. Our $350 billion annual investment in the ordeal known as primary and secondary education resembles an assembly line in reverse. The finished product is not inquisitive, excited children, but instead is disassembled parts—dull, lost and frightened teenagers.

We need to shake our federal government to its core, not timid change, not change at the margins, but radical change to restore a sense of purpose and mission to our experiment in self government.

We need fundamental change in America, fundamental change in our foreign policy to build a new world economy and move one step closer to the elusive goal of world peace. Fundamental change...

Fundamental change in our domestic policy to restore America's health, fundamental change in our values to give hope to our children. They were the reasons for my running for president and they will always be my compass to guide me in the fight ahead.

This is the end of a single presidential campaign. Unfortunately, my own, but it is not a surrender or retreat.

As I look back on my campaign, difficult though that might be to do, I feel neither regret nor disappointment. I am proud of the effort and more committed than ever to carrying on the fight.

President of Czechoslovakia Václav Havel recently observed that the end of Soviet communism was as much a victory of the human spirit over the tyranny of government as it was a military victory.

Just as they were inspired by our example, we should be inspired by theirs. Our government also stands between us and a new world of freedom, exploration and progress. It is time for Americans to rise up with the full spirit of our indomitable nature to seize this moment and build the nation and world of our dreams.

Thank you all...

KERREY: I hate to interrupt applause to take questions from the press but I feel that I must. Yes.

QUESTION: Senator, aren't we in fact seeing a protest vote not just against the White House but against Democrats in Congress? Was it a liability out there to be connected with the establishment?

KERREY: No, by no means was it a liability to be connected to the establishment. I mean I understand that there's a great deal of resentment today and anger towards Washington, DC. But there's anger on almost all levels of government today.

And the problem that we face as political leaders is to respond to that anger with change. Not with defensive gestures, not with any sort of lack of commitment, but with renewed commitment, to change the course.

Ron there is as I said in my statement, there is growing uncertainty in America about where we're going. And it's almost as important, indeed I would say it's more important, to try and describe to Americans where we're going before we describe what it is that we're going to do to get there.

It is true, I think, that Americans view us in Washington is getting sometimes vocal before we get vocational, but I don't see this as a protest [inaud.] Congress.

QUESTION: I wonder if you could describe to us how you're going to continue the fight and what these new arenas might be.

KERREY: Well, I'm still a member of the United States Senate and though we have to wait...though we have to wait sometimes longer than we would like for Strom to finish talking to speak,  I intend to wait long enough to allow my voice to be heard.

QUESTION: Senator, what would you do differently if you had to do your campaign over again or next time?

KERREY: Something. I don't know what.

QUESTION: Senator have you decided who you're going to throw your support to, sir?


QUESTION: Senator, why didn't your health care message take off?

KERREY: It did take off. It's taking off throughout the country.

QUESTION: You talk about the need for Vietnam veterans to get more involved in politics. And one of the nation's most non-Vietnam, most prominent non-Vietnam veterans right now is Governor Clinton.
Do you, could you be enthusiastic about his candidacy for president?

KERREY: Very. I could be very enthusiastic about his candidacy. If he's a nominee of the party, I will campaign feverishly to make certain that he wins the election in November.

QUESTION: ...your own post-mortems though, on the election, on the campaign? What are your own...?

KERREY: Post-mortem?

QUESTION: What are your own thoughts though about...?

KERREY: Are you a journalist or a mortician?

QUESTION: Why did your message...?

KERREY: Go ahead...

QUESTION: To put it more directly, why did your message not take hold do you think?  What...

KERREY: Well, it's clear to me that I hit stride, but it's probably true that I hit stride a couple of weeks too late in the state of New Hampshire. I mean the way that American politics are set, unless you do well in New Hampshire, you do not have the visibility required to get people to know who you are. There's only two ways to get people to know who you are and one is with paid and one is with unpaid media, and I had precious little money to buy it and I had very little opportunity to acquire it free.

QUESTION: Senator, you had precious little money, but so did Jerry Brown. Why do you think his message is connecting and yours did not?

KERREY: Well, Jerry Brown is in a much different status than I am. I'm in the United States Senate. I have an obligation to the people of Nebraska to serve them.  You know, I have an obligation to measure when it is that I need to return full time to the job that, to which I've been elected. And I have made the decision that I need to return full time. Were it not for that, it'd be possible for me to go out similar to Jerry Brown.

I've, you know, I won a primary; I finished third in another. There's enthusiasm out there for the campaign, and it is growing enthusiasm. Not growing as much as I would like but it is growing nonetheless.

QUESTION: From the Navy SEALs to the Senate, you've had many impressive victories. Is this the toughest defeat you've ever dealt with in your career? And my second part of that question, in looking at the candidates now—the four remaining candidates—what piece of advice do you have, and what recommendations do you, do you really want to instill in them at this point?

KERREY: Well, on the second part, I hardly think that I'm in a qualified position to make recommendations about what they should do to conduct their campaign.

You know, as to the first emphatically no, it's not. I have faced other disappointments far, far more shattering this, and in fact, I don't consider this to be a shattering disappointment at all. I've gained a great deal. I've acquired new friends, and I must say again with emphasis, I have acquired most of all increased respect for the people of this country and increased enthusiasm for the notion that they are prepared themselves to fight for change. They just want to be led differently.

QUESTION: Senator, how can you say that you would enthusiastically support a Clinton campaign if it came to that, when just a few days ago you were suggesting that he's unelectable? Isn't that a bit disingenuous?

KERREY: Oh look, Bob Dole campaigned for George Bush and said far worse things and than I did. I mean, this is politics, and you're campaigning for office and and you bump and you hit and you take bumps and hits in return. I will campaign enthusiastically for Bill Clinton. As I said earlier, it's increasingly obvious to me that the only unelectable presidential candidate today is George Bush.

QUESTION: So you take it all back then?

KERREY: Do I what?

QUESTION: So you take it all back?

KERREY: ...take it all back. You make it sound like some sort of some sort of grade school argument. I mean, I don't need to take anything back. I have a great deal of respect for Bill Clinton, and if its Bill Clinton or Paul Tsongas or Jerry Brown or Tom Harkin or uncommitted that's a nominee of the party, I intend to campaign with great enthusiasm because I believe that the direction that any one of those individuals will take this nation is vastly preferable to the direction of drift that George Bush is taking America today.

QUESTION: Senator Kerrey, how about a vice presidential bid?

KERREY: that by me one more time.

QUESTION: How about a vice presidential bid, Senator?

KERREY: Well, I never say never, but I just, I don't, I'm not enthusiastic about the notion. I've lived in Navy quarters before but...

QUESTION: You spent an enormous amount of money on television ads, one of which you publicly criticized. Do you think you're well served by consultants?

KERREY: Yes. Yes, I was well served.

The problem wasn't paid media. I mean as much as it may be that you look at paid media and you look at consultants and you look advisors. I mean, the problem was I didn't really hit stride with message until closing days of the New Hampshire primary and in the end that was not enough. This attention to pay media is lots of fun, but the fact is that a campaign depends upon the candidate and the candidate's capacity to communicate to the audience, and to communicate to the people themselves, and to establish trust and confidence, and I did not begin to do that until very late in the campaign itself.

QUESTION: Senator Kerrey, what types of criticisms do you have the whole election or campaign process and the whole horse race mentality, do you feel that you were ill served because of that, and if you could change the process with the media and pundits, what do you see really needs to change electorally?

KERREY: Well, I just like to change and so that you all see what a great guy I am and you know a little earlier. I've got no... The biggest change that needs to occur in the United States today is that the Republicans need to stop resisting campaign finance reform and need to allow Wendell Ford's motor voter legislation to pass, need to allow this process to be opened up. I mean the Democrats have been fighting for for years and the Republicans need to stop resisting it, and allow the people increased opportunity to participate in campaigns. And if they would do that, it seems to me the process would be a lot better.

QUESTION: Would you run again?


AUDIENCE: [Chants] Kerrey, Kerrey, Kerrey.

QUESTION: If your party fails in winning the presidency this year...?

KERREY: ...opening phrase.  What was it? If what fails?

QUESTION: If your party fails winning the presidential race this year, would you run in '96?

KERREY: Well our party will not fail in November of '92. So talk to me in December of '92...

QUESTION: Follow up question to would you run again? Do you plan to run again? For President?

KERREY: Well I don't have any plans at the moment to run again. I'm just trying to communicate that the cause that got me in this to begin with is still alive and I feel a sense of purpose to participate in that cause. And, you know, I've drawn a bead on the office of the president the United States. I would have loved in January of 1993 to have begun to use that power to transform life in this country. And certainly the spark and the flame is still alive to at some point in my lifetime be able to do that.

QUESTION: Senator, are you are you at all concerned that the Republicans when the campaign progresses might go back to your own rhetoric of recent days about Governor Clinton serving and use that to open him up like a fresh peanut?

KERREY: I'm going to tell you I think George Bush needs to worry far more about Pat Buchanan's rhetoric being used on him in November of '92 than any of our candidates have to worry about either mine or somebody else's rhetoric being used against them. I mean the incendiary and I would say altogether accurate in most cases rhetoric of Pat Buchanan describing how the President has broke trust with the American people down the line is far more likely to be persuasive in November of '92 than a couple of sharp remarks by me.


Kerrey spoke in a room filled with enthusiastic supporters. He made an opening statement lasting about 11 3/4 minutes, then took questions.